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Virtualization: Article

Case Study: Transaction Management Stabilizes Virtual Environments

‘Knowledge is power’ and IT solutions are no exception

For a company like Lafarge, the dispatching of trucks and materials is mission critical. So when the performance of IT applications supporting this function suffers, it's bad for business.

Based in Paris, France, Lafarge is a provider of building materials, with more than $15 billion in annual revenue and 68,000 employees in 64 nations. It specializes in cement, aggregates and concrete. If fleet drivers run into delays in getting these materials to construction sites, deadlines are missed and the fallout can get costly. Yet, after launching a server virtualization project, such concerns surfaced due to a decline in the performance of key applications for dispatch operations.

Ultimately, however, this setback - or at least its resolution - helped pave the way for a better way of doing things: a company-wide, virtualized approach to enterprise resource planning (ERP), with a significant investment in Vblock. Vblock brings together EMC's storage, VMware's virtualization and Cisco's server and networking technology. It makes for rapid deployments with boasts of offering "Private Cloud in a Rack."

This move made sense. The virtualization of ERP can drop project's total cost of ownership by 30 percent, according to the Info-Tech Research Group. And Vblock is emerging as a popular tool for ERP and other purposes. Overall, the business behind Vblock, Virtual Computing Environment Company (VCE), indicates that to-date revenues are on track to reach $3 billion in 2013.

But before Lafarge could take advantage of Vblock, it turned its focus to its virtualized dispatch situation.

Dispatch application performance stumbled after the server virtualization launch. This created an immense challenge for a large enterprise such as Lafarge. Small, simple applications only involve a handful of servers, so manually checking log files and rebooting servers when problems occur is feasible. But complex production applications entail hundreds of discrete nodes. In a large-scale virtual environment, the old-school, manually intense way of reading log files to find the problem simply doesn't work.

With a large mixture of physical and virtual servers, Lafarge's IT leadership realized it had a complicated task on its plate. When Lafarge Enterprise Infrastructure Architect Mariano Deluca was asked about the situation, he said that "despite having multiple tools that supplied specific hardware data and event logs, because our applications are so complex, Lafarge was spending too much time on finding the root cause of an issue."

Not only did the approach to troubleshooting require a large team of experts, it took a long time to figure out the cause of issues, if they could be found at all - which wasn't the case with the dispatch applications.

"To even get started on problem analysis," Deluca continued, "we needed to pull together a large, cross-functional team to review all the data."

That's when they turned to BlueStripe, to bring in a solution to help identify errors that were causing the problem. BlueStripe's FactFinder Transaction Performance & Availability Monitoring Solution tracks business transactions end-to-end across the data center, including virtual and cloud environments, monitoring every transaction, end to end, to maximize performance and availability management capabilities.

Once FactFinder was put in play, Lafarge quickly identified what was so unclear before: the transaction slowdowns were occurring only with newly deployed virtual servers, as opposed to the older physical servers that were converted to virtual. BlueStripe quickly ruled out typical errors for these kinds of issues and identified an obscure configuration oversight. In a few hours, Lafarge was able to isolate the root cause and take corrective action, solving a problem that had been going on for weeks.

"With FactFinder, we can get to the root cause of issues quickly just using resources within operations," said Deluca. "Then, we can easily push out the needed remediation for fast resolution."

Now that Lafarge's ERP system is on Vblock, they use FactFinder to monitor transaction and application performance. Throughout the application life cycle, FactFinder monitors live user/applications transactions and certifies application upgrades/deployments, as well as the Vblock infrastructure.

To get the full potential out of IT investments, IT Operations teams must understand how transactions, applications and infrastructure are connected. One way to think about it is being able to follow a transaction across the infrastructure to the slow component, then drilling down the application server stack to understand what caused the problem. As proven out by successes at Raymond James, Husqvarna, and Jackson Hewitt, this simple concept can be applied to any application in any part of the application life cycle to help deliver better performing applications, avoid surprise outages, and improve overall availability.

With full transaction visibility and a methodical way to use it, Lafarge is able to monitor all their applications in diverse technological environments, and the IT Operations team can now take control of the systems they manage. After all, "Knowledge is power", and IT solutions are no exception.

More Stories By Vic Nyman

Vic Nyman is the co-founder and COO of BlueStripe Software. He has over 20 years of experience in systems management and APM and has held leadership positions at Wily Technology, IBM Tivoli and Relicore/Symantec.

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